Chris Grayling is MP for Epsom and Ewell, and Leader of the House of Commons.
Last week was a week of deafening silence from the Labour Party. It started at the Budget debate. They had started shouting at the Chancellor. Then came his rabbit from the hat – the National Living Wage. Their jaws dropped. The shouting stopped. They were speechless. Even as Harriet Harman spoke, the Labour benches sat in stunned silence.
But it wasn’t just the Budget that silenced them. As tube drivers, train drivers and others marched onto the picket lines, the silence from the Labour benches continued.
Only one MP rose to her feet to talk about the strikes and the disruption they were causing. And did she express her concern for all the people left stranded? Not a bit of it. A fair deal for the strikers was all that she could come up with on behalf of her Party. And about the public, not a word. More silence.
Not one senior Labour figure was willing to speak out against strikers earning £50,000 plus a year in many cases, striking against an improvement to services for the public, and making people earning a much smaller wage, like nurses in hospitals and teachers in schools find a makeshift way to work. Not one Labour figure speaking out for hard-working people.
In many respects it’s not surprising. Today’s Labour party at Westminster is dominated by the unions. They pay its bills. They use their muscle to get their people installed in its most senior positions. A large proportion of new Labour MPs were trade union officials, often selected by local parties dominated by the unions. No wonder they are reluctant to criticise union leaders when they push for unwarranted strike action.
Of course today as a Party they are in deep trouble. They lost an election they expected to win. They were destroyed in their Scottish heartland. They need to climb an electoral mountain to get back into power.
But a key part of the challenge that we have ahead of us is to make sure that they never even come close to climbing that mountain. Just because they are down, does not mean we should ease off on the pressure that we put them under. We need to challenge them nationally, and challenge them locally. We need to keep them under pressure wherever they are campaigning and whatever they are doing. It’s a job for every single member of our Party.
Today’s Labour Party is very still recognisably the Labour Party of old. They haven’t changed. They still pursue the same old state dominated, financially irresponsible policies that drive wealth creators away and stifle British enterprise. They follow the agenda set by militant trade union leaders because they cannot afford not to. When Ed Miliband talked about breaking the links with the unions he was creating an illusion and not a reality.
So when well-paid rail workers take to the picket lines leaving the public frustrated and struggling just to do a normal day’s work, Labour’s senior figures are nowhere to be seen. They just can’t break the apron strings.
And yet the great irony is that away from the militants on the picket lines, many trade unionists are decent, hard-working people who vote Conservative in large numbers. They are ill-served by the people who lead them, and ill-served by the minority who vote for disruptive strike action and then put pressure on others to take part.
When London was brought to a partial standstill by the striking tube workers I wrote to Labour’s four leadership candidates urging them to condemn the disruption to people and businesses. They didn’t bother to reply and they said nothing. It says it all really.